Finding Blake welcomes back artist, musician, illustrator, songwriter and poet Salli Hipkiss, with a new poem – Another Jerusalem – and her account of the inspiration for this work in dream, and in the work and wisdom of Blake and other thinkers and writers.
Another Jerusalem I dreamed I danced beside a wall with unknown friends, maybe three. No music played but still within we heard a call and danced, beside a wall. The dream went on, the second night a bigger crowd was there. No words were passed but all were light of foot and many smiles were shared. Night three the crowd was bigger still, all dancing while the wall stood soft Somehow, though limestone made and marked where countless hands had pressed And whispered truths and prayers and dreams and curses... This time we chose freedom from speech and danced our stories. The next night still the party grew: all silent dancers, full of smiles. I woke in wonder that such vivid smiling people could be conjured just by dream. Where we have walls, where speech brings argument, disharmony: Bring only inner music. Bring no words. But dance with wild abandon Become friends with unknown dreamers Belong to all nations Come barefoot And dance. Salli Hipkiss © 6th April 2018. All rights reserved.
Writing an introduction to this poem seems a little out of place in some ways, suggesting as it does a move beyond words! However, a little placing in context might appeal to some people, so here goes…
Some acts of creation take years to come to fruition, and some, happily, come along almost effortlessly, and so it was with this poem. It really was inspired by a vivid dream that unfolded pretty much as the poem tells!
However, reflecting on the dream and writing the poem as a response, I found myself recalling real walls that exist or have existed or are sadly being proposed in current times.
In April this year the Dalai Lama published a book for young people called A Call For Revolution. In it he presents the idea of a revolution of compassion. He remembers being present in 1989 as the Berlin Wall was dismantled by the young people of East and West Germany. He says:
“I feel very emotional thinking back to the moment when I arrived, candle in hand, at the site where the wall had been breached. The jubilant crowd lifted me up onto the rubble. It was an extraordinary moment and I felt the breath of peace and freedom exhaling throughout the world.”
Inspired by such positive, peaceful, collective actions, through the book he calls for young people today to commit to a Charter of Universal Responsibility that actively leads to peace and the dissolution of constructed divisions, whether physical or ideological.
Finding a common ground
Writing in the 13th-century the Persian poet and Sufi mystic Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī wrote the beautiful lines:
Out beyond Ideas of right doing And wrong doing: There is a field, I’ll meet you there.
I am intrigued by places that allow people to find ‘common ground’, or where they are at least able to put aside differences and meet with open hearts. The wall in my dream was not a specific place, but more a feeling for this kind of inclusive space.
While reflecting on the dream, the wall that kept coming back into my mind was the Western Wall in Jerusalem, also known as the Wailing Wall, Kotel, or in Arabic as Ḥā’iṭ al-Burāq. I decided therefore to title the poem Another Jerusalem, reflecting both on modern-day Jerusalem and William Blake’s poem of the same name, and the famous song Jerusalem, which is based on text from Blake’s poem Milton.
The Western Wall has deep meaning and history for Jews, Christians and Muslims and the Jerusalem walls are listed, along with the Old City of Jerusalem, on the UNESCO World Heritage Site List. As one of the ‘status quo of the Holy Land’ sites it is a place of pilgrimage for all and now forms a fragile meeting point of cultures and religions, rather than a physical division.
The idea that a wall, originally designed to divide, to keep some in and others out, might inadvertently become a meeting point, resonated with the theme I had taken from the dream. There are also many meeting points between different religions and ideologies that become evident when we look for similarities rather than differences.
Writing in the 18th-century, Blake boldly illustrated the aphorism: “All Religions Are One.”
This recalls for me another lovely poem by Rumi:
Spring overall. But inside us There is another unity. Behind each eye One glowing weather. Every forest branch moves differently In the breeze, but as they sway They connect at the roots.
In our increasingly multi-cultural societies it feels as if we could possibly be closer than at any other time in history to realising that we are all part of one big family tree: that we all “connect at the roots”. In the way of this is a clinging to a simplistic world-view that divides people into ‘Us and Them’.
In Jerusalem, The Emanation of The Giant Albion Blake describes:
…two contraries which are called Qualities and with Which every substance is clothed, (they) name them good and evil From them they make an abstract…
The italics on ‘Qualities’ are my own, for although this is the usual transcription, I can’t help wondering if the word Blake might have had in mind was ‘Dualities’, which also fits with the general flow of his ideas. ‘Dualities’, polarising notions of good and evil, lead too easily to concepts of ‘Us and Them’.
A short distance away from Jerusalem today the Israel and Palestine conflict remains unresolved. A new wall is being proposed along the Mexico and USA border, to many people’s dismay. Surely at this time humanity needs to be putting its creative energy into moving beyond the kind of divisive ‘abstract’ thinking that Blake was exploring: thinking which can too easily make an ‘evil’ out of a ‘contrary’.
The Dalai Lama has written:
“In November 2015 after the Paris terrorist attacks, I faced up to the failure of religion. Every religion persists in cultivating that which divides us, instead of uniting us around what brings us together… There is an urgent need to go beyond religion. It is possible to live without religion, but can one live without love and compassion? The answer is no.”
A creative force for peace
In Jerusalem, The Emanation of The Giant Albion Blake talks of: “Striving with systems to deliver individuals from their systems”
There seems to me something generous in Blake’s forging of his personal mythology or ‘system’, in his rejection of the oppressive qualities of religious doctrine, and his own unique interpretation of Christianity. His personal striving for freedom of creative imagination paves the way for others to follow their own paths, leading to a multiplicity of visions: a route that in turn leads perhaps to unity and universality through diversity.
Blake writes :
I must make a system, or be enslav’d by another Man’s, I will not Reason and Compare: my business is to create.
Creativity is such a powerful force for peace. Indeed peace is often found more easily when adversaries focus on a joint creative or collaborative project, rather than on the ‘serious business’ (usually through talking) of creating peace itself. Similarly peace of mind or even happiness usually elude us when we focus on them as ends in themselves, but ‘find us’ when we focus on positive external endeavours, especially those that benefit other people rather than just ourselves.
Thus, maybe it is all our ‘business to create’. To make our own ‘systems’ but to recognise they are our own and to therefore recognise that others’ ‘systems’ are theirs and equally valid. This moves beyond tolerance somehow and becomes refreshingly immediate and both inclusive and expansive.
At my most optimistic, I like to consider that perhaps even the controversial current proposal to build a wall between Mexico and the USA might inadvertently act as a meeting point, pulling many individuals and nations together in voicing their common feeling that the wall shouldn’t be built, and that those seeking refuge across borders all around the world should be helped rather than punished.
The voice of compassion
In Blake’s Jerusalem, The Emanation of The Giant Albion his feminine figure of Jerusalem:
…stretchd her hand toward the Moon & spoke Why should Punishment Weave the Veil with Iron Wheels of War When Forgiveness might it Weave with Wings of Cherubim…
I think Blake was ahead of his time in giving Jerusalem a feminine character and attributing to her the voice of compassion. Writing in 2017 the Dalai Lama says:
“I have a dream: Women will become national leaders… I call upon the next generation of young women to be the mothers of the Revolution of Compassion that this century so desperately needs.”
As I write these lines, the full moon is just rising over the birch trees close to my house, reminding me again how connected we all are over time and space and across differences in ideology: connected by our views of the same night skies and illuminating celestial bodies and through the tapestries of our dreams.
I can’t claim to hold company with any of the great poets, writers, thinkers and leaders I recall here, but in its humble way I hope my poem Another Jerusalem, adds another voice to the gentle but urgent call for unity, inclusivity and compassion, rather than duality and antagonism, alongside the recognition that it is all ‘our business to create’, in order to achieve a lasting dance of peace.
Salli Hipkiss is a poet, writer, artist, songwriter, and singer who for fifteen years has worked freelance as a creative practitioner and teacher/advocate of arts and sustainability, recently alongside being a full-time home-schooling Mum. Salli’s creative work has moved between art, music, illustration, songwriting, poetry, novel-writing and more. She is passionate about human creativity and individual flourishing, and about environmental sustainability and regeneration, and is curious about how the two areas can be symbiotic, leading to a holistic vision of wellbeing. Some of her portfolio can be explored on her website: www.sallihipkiss.com
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